Dalby first visited Japan as a teenager in the 1960s. She stayed for a year with a family in Saga City on the southern island of Kyūshu becoming the first foreign student of Saga University. At the time she knew only basic Japanese and though she eventually became fluent, the experience must have been a difficult one. It was whilst living in Saga that she heard a shamisen (a traditional three-stringed Japanese instrument) being played and fell in love with its enchanting sound. Her host family organised lessons with a local
nagauta (lit. 'long song', a type of traditional Japanese music) teacher where she began to study the instrument.
|Dalby as geisha Ichigiku|
During her time as a geisha Dalby learnt a lot about the subtleties and rules of kimono along with their history inspiring her to write her second book. Kimono: Fashioning Culture explains the many different items that make up the elegant ensembles, the seasonal variations in colour and patterns and the subtle signifiers that indicate the wearers status and age. The book provides an invaluable and thorough introduction to Japan's national dress.
Later, inspired by the stories of the Heian court that she had come across during her research and her love for The Tale of Genji, Dalby wrote her first novel based on the life of the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu. Her fourth book East Wind Melts the Ice collects together anecdotes and tales from her fascinating life split between Japan and California organised around her own version of the traditional Japanese almanac. The stories explore the integral part that the seasons play in all aspects of Japanese culture and the importance that is placed on observing their changes. Recently Dalby has produced a second novel, Hidden Buddhas.
I would recommend Liza Dalby's books to anyone that is interested in Japanese culture, not only are they well-researched and highly informative but they are interesting and enjoyable to read in a way that many academic texts are not. Her own personal insight, experiences and understanding make them a pleasure to read.
|Kimono: Fashioning Culture|
|The Tale of Murasaki|
|East Wind Melts the Ice:|
A Japanese Almanac